Minding the Gap

Information Technology Infrastructure graduate balances business skills with tech know-how 

Josh DybaAt the age of eight years old, Josh Dyba fell in love. Or at least in intense fascination. When a friend of his got an Apple II computer, Dyba was instantly intrigued with the new technology and worked diligently to convince his parents he needed one as well.

"After I convinced them to buy one, I did everything I could to self-educate myself on the use--and eventually the programming--of that machine," he says.

And a decade later, when it came time to decide what to do after high school? "Based solely on my fond memories from all the plinking away on that Apple IIe. I decided to join the Navy and go into the Advanced Electronic Computer Field program."

His path led him to "develop a serious professional interest in computers and information security," and after finishing his time in the Navy, Dyba knew it was an ideal time to return to school and complete his college education with a degree in a related field. 

"At the time, we were living in Washington and I had a job offer to work for SPAWAR [Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command] in Seattle. I had thought about taking computer science classes through the University of Washington at the same time," he says.

"I knew I wanted to stay in the IT industry, but when it came to a degree program, I had a real hesitation about getting one in just computer science. Typically, computer science degrees are very technical, architecture-based degrees. Technical engineering."

Continues Dyba, "I love the technical side of what I do, but that wasn't my endgame in terms of my career, so I wanted to explore other options."

When his fiancée (now wife) got a job in Minnesota working for Children's Hospitals and Clinics, Dyba changed plans and began investigating his education options here. "I had a job working at Target as second-level IT help desk support, working with camera systems, and was looking to advance and get a job in information security services. After talking to a mentor of mine, I learned about the Information Technology Infrastructure (ITI) program through the College of Continuing Education."

The Bachelor of Applied Science degree in IT management seemed like the ideal match for Dyba. "It was a nice blend of what I wanted to study," he says. "It was not such a heavy emphasis on the technical, nor was it strictly a business degree. It really fell in the middle, a nice balance that spans a crucial gap in the industry."

That gap, Dyba says, falls between the individuals who know how to do the work and the individuals who decide what work needs to be done. "You have two sides," he explains, "the technical people say 'How are we going to make X,Y, or Z systems or hardware do something?' and the business management side says , 'What are our company's big picture goals? How can we leverage technology to achieve them?'

It sounds clichéd to say things can get 'lost in translation,' but it's true. Both sides have the same goal, and they can meet and talk about it, and then go off and do their respective things, and they think they are working side by side in parallel tracks...but then you get to the end and discover your paths were actually wildly divergent. To me, the ITI degree seemed like it would prepare me to be able to fit into that niche--to be a person who can sit down with both sides and get them to work together, efficiently."

Dyba completed his prerequisites at North Hennepin Community College, and then began taking classes in the program at the U, which was very convenient for him. "Being able to do that was great--I could take exactly what I needed. Like a lot of things in this degree, it really fits for people like me who are trying to juggle a lot of obligations."

Working full-time, with five children (the youngest was born this July), and a slate of outdoor and other activities as hobbies filling his time, Dyba needed a degree program that could be flexible, as well as one that was applicable to his career goals, something he found in the ITI program.

"Everyone here is ready to work with you. The instructors are outstanding--they really get the spirit of what this program is about: full-time people going to school part-time (in many cases). In fact, the majority of them are in a similar boat, as they are industry professionals who are balancing teaching these courses with their 'day jobs.' I had instructors who were company vice presidents, consultants, other leaders in the IT industry."

By learning from working professionals, as well as being in classes with other individuals from a variety of backgrounds, Dyba built a rich portfolio of hands-on, real-world experiences, along with his textbook examples. "The networking is great. We can bring up questions that happen in our day-to-day jobs, and then use them as real-life case studies. I could say, 'here's something that happened to me at my company. How would you handle it at Fairview or at Target or at wherever?' Scenarios come up and you can bounce them off of professors and classmates and get such a varied perspective on things--from both the business and the IT sides."

He continues, "in a more traditional degree program, the professor might point to a generic case study in a book and say 'Out in The Real World, you may see X, Y, and Z' and then when you go off into that Real World, you sort of have to adapt on the fly. But here, you're working with things that actually happen, you're prepping with actual events."

Dyba earned his promotion at Target while he was finishing his degree. He graduated in the spring of 2008, and in 2009, accepted a position with United Health Group, where he now works as an operations incident manager.

"United is a Fortune 50 company, and there are numerous critical applications and infrastructures in place--if one of them falters or fails, the impact is immediate and could cost millions of dollars. We can't have teams quibbling amongst themselves over whose fault it was or who needs to clean it up," he says.

"What my group does is round up all the involved parties, direct them in remediating whatever occurred, and then we work through the back-end processes to figure out what happened and why, and how to prevent it in the future."

His degree serves him well in a job that requires him to balance, as he calls it, the needs of the "doers" and the "deciders." "There's nothing more frustrating for a tech person (and for a manager) than having to explain stuff three, four, or more times to the manager--and still not feel like they are on the same page. When a manager can come in who knows the differences in operating systems or what security protocols are in place, etc., even if it's from a top-level understanding...the tech people have more confidence in the management; and management can work more seamlessly with the tech people."

Impressed with the flexibility of the ITI program and the value of the degree to both students and to prospective employers, Dyba agreed to serve as a member of the degree's advisory board in 2007. He started as a student member of the board, and was invited to remain on it following his graduation in 2008. He now works alongside the faculty, other industry consultants, academic advisers, and other program staff to make sure the degree continues to prepare students for the workforce.

"The instructors, advisory board members, and program staff are keyed into the industry and the business needs. [All of us] are really driven to keep the degree pertinent. We don't want it to be an 'okay, you've shown you can earn some college credits, here you go,' sort of experience. We want students to come out of this program and be able to hit the ground running--to exceed the expectations of employers. We want to graduate folks who are the stars of the workplace...people who can come in and know not just the hardware and tech systems and talk to the IT folks on their level, but who can also look at a flow chart and point out gaps in process or procedures or write effective business proposals or other communications."

"This degree," he concludes, "whether you come into it from a business background or a tech one, you can make it work for you. It helps you be the person who can work with, and in, both circles.

"In today's market, it's not hard for employers to find technical skills cheaply. It's highly competitive and you have to set yourself apart. There are people who are trained to 'do' and those who are trained to 'decide.' This degree sets you apart by filling that gap in the middle. By helping you become the person who gets things done."

More information about the Information Technology Infrastructure program is available here.